The former One Direction member, who just welcomed his first child with Gigi Hadid, has sparked concerns when he drinks beer and smokes what fans…
By Jewel Topsfield
Volunteers at the Fawkner Food Bowls program (from left) Charmaine Thomas Daborn, Sally Beattie, Clare Casey, Jen Rae, Isabella Bertolacci, Gregory Lorenzutti, Sarah Mahmoud, Jeanette De Foe and Max Lim.Credit:Justin McManus
Twelve months ago it was unthinkable that an invisible threat – described as a "wicked enemy" by the state’s Premier – would turn Melbourne into a ghost town.
The city buzzed with international students, office workers thronged to the CBD, colleagues shook hands and trams and trains heaved with commuters and tourists.
Few Melburnians had heard of Brett Sutton and Zoom was the noise of Formula One cars streaking around Albert Park Lake every March.
But the world is a different place as we emerge, blinking, into "the new normal", one of the now ubiquitous phrases that would have confounded us a year ago, along with covidiot, blursday, quaranteam and zoombombing.
COVID-19 has brought in – or accelerated – huge changes and not just to the lexicon.
Working from home has become normalised, telemedicine is a permanent part of Australian healthcare, we still awkwardly bump elbows (with the occasional guilty hug), cash has virtually disappeared, and the CBD has hollowed out. Our mental health remains fragile.
Many white-collar workers – now comfortable with working remotely – show little desire to rejoin the nine-to-five rat race.
Some bricks-and-mortar stores have closed forever as we embrace online shopping and takeaway food deliveries.
Will our lives ever be the same?
Clues left by previous pandemics
Previous pandemics have transformed societies across the world. Historians have suggested the Antonine plague in the second century led to the expansion of Christianity, with its ethos of caring for the sick.
More recently, the cholera and typhoid epidemics of the 19th century sparked the introduction of modern sanitation in the form of sewers and aqueducts, and spurred cities to introduce boulevards and parks.
Only time will tell if COVID-19 will trigger such a radical transformation of our society.
However, in some areas we are already experiencing profound change.
Working from home
Former Australian Paralympian Don Elgin has lived all his life without most of his left leg. In the past, if his leg was sore, he faced a dilemma. He could put his prosthetic leg on, go to work and suck up the pain, or take a sick day.
"Whereas, working from home, there is no worries at all, I could have a complete day without my leg on at all," he says.
Former paralympian Don Elgin believes working from home has made the workplace more inclusive.Credit:Paul Jeffers
One of the starkest lessons of the pandemic has been that people – whose jobs allow it – are capable of being enormously productive working from their dining room table. Many employees will never return to the office, or at least not for five days every week.
Elgin believes remote working will make the workplace more inclusive. "People with disabilities have been quietly trying to suggest for a long, long time that there’s different ways to do things and now the rest of the world has caught up."
Some suggest women – especially those who live in the outer suburbs – will also benefit. Working from home eradicates the commute and could boost productivity, bolster women’s participation in the workforce and improve family time.
However, the jury is out on this: recurring research has found women are more likely to carry out more domestic responsibilities while working flexibly.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has also sounded a warning. She urged businesses to be aware of the gender mix of staff returning to the office and ensure an "old boys network" does not re-emerge in the workplace if women are out of sight and out of mind.
Dr Jathan Sadowski, a researcher in emerging technologies at Monash University, says workplace surveillance technologies have become more common as people work outside the office.
"There’s a need, or at least a perceived need, to keep a close eye over what employees are doing," he says.
Sadowski says software suites are being installed in computers to log keystrokes, allow workers to clock in and clock off, take random screenshots of people’s desktops and create productivity scores.
This month Microsoft apologised over a feature that allowed managers to track their employees' activity after it was criticised for enabling workplace surveillance.
But Sadowski believes surveillance is here to stay. "Those kind of things have become very common and once they are around they have a tendency to not go away."
Rise of the gig economy and automation
The gig economy has also become part of our daily life, with many people taking for granted the convenience of home-delivered takeaway food.
However, the recent spate of delivery driver deaths has shone a light on the precarious conditions facing gig economy workers who are treated as private contractors and lack the protections other employers offer.
The pandemic has also featured more firms worldwide experimenting with robots as a solution for supply chain challenges including social distancing and increased e-commerce volumes.
Booktopia will trial mobile robots, which can put away stock and pick books from the shelves, at its Sydney warehouse from early next year, after a 28 per cent spike in sales in the 2020 financial year.
Nic Poltronieri considers himself one of the lucky ones.
His shop, Hearns Hobbies on Flinders Street, is a Melbourne institution, catering for hobby enthusiasts since 1947.
Hearns Hobbies has been a Melbourne institution since 1947.Credit:The Age
During lockdown Poltronieri invested heavily in digital marketing, encouraging his customers to buy online.
Deloitte’s annual Retailers’ Christmas survey for 2020 found 71 per cent of respondents expected online sales during Christmas to exceed the same period last year. Forty-four per cent expected more than 10 per cent of their sales to be online this year – the highest in the history of the survey.
Poltronieri’s shop has now reopened, but its doors remain shut. People are let into Hearns Hobbies one at a time.
"It’s safer in many ways. There’s less theft and much better service because you look after this one customer."
Poltronieri says the new regime requires fewer staff on the floor, which means they can focus on digital marketing or website development.
"It’s proving very positive. This is maybe a model that could carry on in the future. Who knows really?"
But some businesses are shutting for good.
Melbourne institution Tofu Shop International has closed its cafe.Credit:Wayne Taylor
Tofu Shop International on Bridge Road – another Melbourne institution – closed its cafe last month after 38 years.
Owner Malcolm Green says social distancing rules and a lack of support from Yarra City Council meant it was no longer viable to run a cafe in a small space.
He is still manufacturing tofu and soy products and hints he might pivot – another quintessentially 2020 word – to something else: "Watch this space."
Figures from City of Melbourne, released late last month, showed 28 per cent of businesses in the CBD were either vacant or remained closed.
Poltronieri, who is president of the City Precinct Committee, says restaurants that serve office workers and services that rely on foot traffic have struggled.
Death of the five-day office commute
Before COVID-19, an average of 911,000 people travelled into the CBD every working day.
The council estimates this figure will fall by 38 per cent, even factoring in that 25 per cent of workers are now allowed to return to the office.
Poltronieri predicts some hairdressers, for example, will go out of business in the next couple of weeks. "They have no customers … and they can’t pay rent in Elizabeth Street or Bourke Street, and some landlords are not interested in negotiating anything."
The biggest change to the city, according to lord mayor Sally Capp, is that the five-day office commute is a thing of the past.
Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp.Credit:Jason South
Capp says the council is negotiating with major employers and the state government about staggering the days workers come into the office.
"We don’t want to see everybody coming in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that would defeat the purpose."
Cash is no longer king
Before the pandemic the Bearded Jaffle was a food truck. Its haunts included the AFL grand final, music festivals, weddings, parties, anything.
"Cash is king for food trucks," says owner Todd Gawn.
Todd Gawn in The Bearded Jaffle, which went cash-free during the pandemic. Credit:Simon Schluter
And then at the start of the year all the Bearded Jaffle’s bookings were cancelled. "I thought, oh, no I am in a bit of trouble."
Gawn – the older brother of Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn – quickly converted an Ascot Vale premises he was using as a prep kitchen for the truck into a takeaway shop. He built counters and converted the outside car park into a grassed dining area.
And at the behest of Moonee Valley Council the reincarnated Bearded Jaffle went cash-free.
To Gawn’s surprise it was older people who were the early adapters. They were also the first to embrace ordering from tables by scanning QR codes, browsing the menu and paying from their phones.
Gawn says before the pandemic QR codes never caught on, but now people are used to them after they were widely used this year to assist contact tracing.
Life has changed forever for the Bearded Jaffle. Gawn sold the food truck after the takeaway shop resonated in Ascot Vale. And it is never going back to cash. "It’s just easier for us because the banks that were around here have closed down."
Two kilometres from the Bearded Jaffle, the new Ascot Vale Woolworths Metro is one of 14 Metro stores nationwide trialling electronic payments only.
"This is in response to a sharp and enduring decline in the use of cash throughout 2020 in some of our stores, which has likely been driven in part by COVID-19," a Woolworths spokesperson said.
She stressed cash continued to be offered in all Woolworths supermarkets and the majority of Metro stores, and customer feedback would be monitored closely during the trials.
Square, a payments technology company, reported in September that one in three businesses were cashless (defined as accepting 95 per cent or more of transactions through cards). Fifty-five per cent of customers polled did not have any cash in their wallets and had not visited an ATM for at least two months.
The Commonwealth Bank has said Australia is the sixth most cashless society in the world and could be cash-free by 2026.
Professor Steve Worthington says there will always be a need for cash.Credit:Tanya Lake
Professor Steve Worthington, from Swinburne University’s Business School, says the pandemic has turbo-charged the use of credit, debit and mobile payments.
However, he believes there will always be a need for cash.
Professor Worthington says there are groups who rely on cash, including the elderly, recent immigrants, people with disabilities and people who live in rural areas without regular access to the internet.
He also says cash is still very popular as a store of value. "The number of bank notes in circulation increased dramatically over the COVID period. A lot of people feel having cash around is useful in case IT systems break down."
Three years ago Fawkner Food Bowls was a disused bowling green.
When Sally Beattie and Kelly Gillespie came up with the idea of turning it into a community market garden, they wanted it to be about bringing people together.
"But we never imagined we would be facing something like a pandemic," Beattie says.
In May they created a food distribution hub with Jen Rae from Fair Share Fare, working with local charities, food organisations and businesses to provide basic essentials.
"This proved invaluable in our suburb, which has no Coles or Woolworths and the highest food insecurity in Moreland, in particular throughout Fawkner’s hotspot lockdown in July," Beattie says.
"Some people said it was the only time they came out of the house all week apart from exercise. We actually all got to know each other and in a much deeper way, and have a real shared sense of purpose in the neighbourhood."
The Black Dog Institute – a leading mental health research organisation – says if research shows us anything, it’s that shared experiences of stress can bring communities together in a way we may not have experienced before COVID-19.
For 20 years the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has measured the life satisfaction of 65,000 Australians.
This year one in three of the 2000 participants reported income loss due to COVID-19 and levels of stress and anxiety were higher as a result of the pandemic.
But to the surprise of the Deakin University researchers, the average personal wellbeing score (76.45 out of 100) was higher than in 2019 and within the normal range over the past 20 years.
"We really did expect to see a drop in wellbeing this year and we didn’t find that at all," says Associate Professor Delyse Hutchinson from Deakin University’s Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development.
Almost all the participants reported having greater empathy for others and more gratitude for the things they have in life.
"I think people have reflected on their life in Australia – particularly in the context of what’s happening internationally – and realised we are very lucky."
However, while the immediate physical health crisis has eased, the Black Dog Institute warns "there will be a significant minority who will be affected by long-term anxiety".
Melbourne's lord mayor believes some silver linings have come out of the pandemic. The city of the future will be less congested, Capp says. The public transport peak hour rush could disappear.
The city council capitalised on empty streets during lockdown: a plan to deliver 40 kilometres of bike lanes has been fast-tracked and should be delivered within 18 months.
But critics have claimed the council’s offer of free parking to lure visitors back to the city is a "1960s solution" that deviates from its long-standing goal of discouraging car use.
Meanwhile, the overheated property market in the city has cooled – "our vacancy rate was at the lowest ever pre-COVID" – and Capp anticipates lower rents will attract artists, start-ups, social entrepreneurs and tech companies back into the city.
"Creativity drives regeneration," Capp says. "There’s a reset as a result of COVID."
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